Durham lawmakers Vernetta Alston, Marcia Morey, Mike Woodard and Zach Hawkins discuss budget delay in downtown Durham on Aug. 14 2023. Photo/Greg Childress
State Republicans’ failure to reach agreement on the budget is “inexcusable” and “irresponsible” and will negatively impact North Carolina’s school children and educators, a group of Durham Democratic lawmakers said on Monday.
Durham’s legislative delegation took part in a series of statewide press conferences held to highlight the state of public schools as most students who attend traditional calendar schools prepare to return to classrooms. Thousands of year-round students are already in school.
The state budget is 45 days late and House Speaker Tim Moore has said lawmakers won’t likely have a budget in place until sometime after Labor Day, said Rep. Marcia Morey, a Durham Democrat.
“Week after week this summer, we [Democrats] have been ready to go in and to do the work and to vote, but the Republican leadership has decided that their far away vacations and conferences are more important,” Morey said “This has got to stop.”
Without a state budget, Morey said educators can’t budget personal finances. Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget proposal and House and Senate spending plans all contain teacher pay raises.
“How do educators plan their own finances when they don’t know what their salaries will be?” Morey said.
Durham’s legislative delegation was joined by several local school board members and educators during their morning press conference in downtown Durham. Similar events were scheduled throughout the state.
Rep. Zack Hawkins, a Duham Democrat, said that underfunded schools impact academic outcomes. Teachers must be paid well and given adequate resources to educate children, Hawkins said.
“They [teachers] can’t bring to life science and math and all the things that they’re [children] are expected to learn, they can’t bring those things to life if they don’t have what they need,” said Hawkins, a former teacher.
Sen. Mike Woodard, a Durham Democrat, said that the state’s Republican leadership continues to disinvest in public education.
“This General Assembly has continued now a dozen years of disinvestment in our public education system, whether it’s through vouchers, whether it’s through failing to invest in our capital needs or whether its failure to invest in our most important infrastructure in our schools, which is our people,” said Woodard, who recently announced plans to run for Durham mayor.
Woodard said that expanding the school voucher program to allow access to the state’s wealthiest families will take more funding from public schools to hand over to largely unregulated private schools.
“They [Republicans] forget to tell you when the talk about choice with their voucher program is how many tens of millions of dollars go unused,” Woodard said. “Families aren’t using these things because what they realize is that vouchers sound good until you qualify for it and take it to a private school and find out that it only pays a small portion of the school’s tuition.”
A family can receive up to nearly $7,000 to send a child to a private school under the income-based Opportunity Scholarship program.
Woodard criticized Republican leaders for their failure to adequately fund school capital needs, particularly in rural counties that lack the tax base to pay for building needs with local money.
“Children cannot learn when their rooms are hot, cold, leaky or dirty,” Woodard said.
The press conference comes two days before lawmakers return to Raleigh to take up several key pieces of controversial Republican-backed education legislation vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper.
Rep. Vernetta Alston, a Durham Democrat, said local teachers worry that they can’t afford to stay in the profession.
“They say they simply can’t afford to stay in the career that they love and that staying requires them to take on more work and administrative roles than they were hired or trained to do in order to get the raises that they have already more than earned,” Alston said.
Minnie Forte-Brown, a former Durham school board chairwoman, said that it’s clear that educating children is no longer a priority for North Carolina.
“We need to do something that shows people that if you don’t care about our children, we’re going to show you that you need to,” Forte-Brown said. “Teachers in North Carolina have been at the bottom for so long that it doesn’t make sense.”
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